Each and every year I read a short novella entitled Being There by Jerzy Kosinski. The main character is a man named Chance—Chance the gardener. He works for a wealthy invalid and his days are spent working in the garden and watching television. Poor Chance isn’t the sharpest hoe in the shed. He’s never seen the outside world—never interacted with people beyond the house. He’s a bit of a modern day Robinson Crusoe.
When the old man he serves dies, Chance is left to fend for himself in a world he’s only seen on television. Long story short—he’s out and about (save yourself the read and find the movie on Netflix—Peter Sellers is fabulous!), is involved in a minor accident with the wife of a tycoon, and is ‘adopted’ by this family who has mistakenly heard him say his name is “Chauncey Gardner.”
After spouting a great many ‘vague aphorisms’ about gardening, this family believes him to be wildly intelligent, with extravagant witticisms, insights and brilliance beyond compare. “In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again,” muses Chauncey. His audience is captivated and fascinated, as the rest of us read, or (for those of us who like to) watch, in horror as they are buffaloed by this illiterate buffoon.
Being There is the book that has been under my skin for years. While once I found it to be nearly a waste of my time, and certainly below my fine liberal arts education, I pull it out annually to read about this man Chauncey, and his understanding of servanthood, growth and transformation.
I daily do the metaphorical work of a gardener, studying the environment of which I have responsibility, preparing for growth, laying out a purpose, and tending to individuals to help them grow and bear fruit. I dearly enjoy the actual labor of gardening, as transformation is clearly evidenced. I find myself constantly concerned with how fast some plants grow, how much sun they need, what hinders growth, when a plant grow best, how the growth of one plant affect the growth of a neighboring plant.
For those of us who are able gardeners, again— metaphorically—we have a responsibility to tend our garden (our community, if you will). There aren’t traveling gardeners and roaming gnomes passing through our towns looking for beds and plots in which to work. We have an obligation to serve—until those being served become freer, healthier, wiser, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to be gardeners.
The first job, which God gave to the first man on earth, Adam, was to be a gardener: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (Gen 2:15). The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Put your gloves and boots on—there’s room in the garden for you.